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atom thought

Facebook and the future of internet security

21 Oct 2010
By atom42

With the recent release of Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Social Network’, Facebook has been catapulted even further into the limelight. But being the hottest thing on the web is not all that straightforward and, as Spiderman says, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Now Facebook’s popularity is leading to increased scrutiny over how the site treats its users.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has published an investigation into the security of Facebook, revealing that apps on the site are providing personal details of tens of millions of users to advertising and tracking companies without their permission. The article notes this is in breach of Facebook’s privacy policy, affecting both those who choose to keep their data private and those who don’t – something we think is a little bit scary.

Why more personal data is becoming available

With the advent of new social platforms such as Foursquare and Unsocial, which encourage users to part with increasing amounts of information, including real-time locations, security is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue online.

These mediums present a whole new and, arguably, desirable stream of data. Furthermore, as these forms of social media grow in popularity, so too does the demand for the data generated from them.

The business of gathering consumer data

Aside from illegal data mining practices, there are numerous businesses that grow a profit solely from the collation, analysis and selling of consumer data gathered online. A recent development comes in the form of a new business model, providing consumers with the opportunity to sell their personal information as a commodity.

In terms of the value consumers place on their privacy, current evidence suggests that there may in fact be a real market for this. Take, for example, the company Everyday Models, which pays consumers to promote one of their brands during everyday activities, for instance on their Facebook profile, or through wearing branded clothing.

The idea of consumers having control over their own data, as opposed to being reliant on unclear privacy policies, definitely appeals.

In support of Facebook

Many of the comments in the WSJ article are supportive of Facebook. One consumer states: “It’s kind of funny how people agree to sign up to a free portal (Facebook) and then complain about their privacy… No one is obliging you to be on Facebook, so get out of it if you are not happy.”

This is an interesting attitude for a consumer to have towards their own privacy, namely that information security within social media may be unrealistic.

The future of data as a commodity

So, how highly valued are privacy and security, and do they amount to the same thing? If a consumer were to allow a company to use and sell their data, would the lack of control over what was done with it still leave them in a vulnerable position?

Bearing in mind the multifarious complexities of security, it will be interesting to see if the practice of consumers selling their data takes off, and how sites like Facebook deal with security issues in the future.

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